Local music seems like a good idea: custom-made music by people in your community for your community. Even the ones who slavishly ape national trends contribute, because they’re at least taking the initiative to do something instead of just turning up a nostril and flatly saying, “There aren’t any good bands around here.”
So why is it local audiences don’t seem to give a s hit about local music anymore?
“I totally see that. People don’t come out and support local music at all anymore,” says Charlie Newman, manager of Liquid Joe’s. “They’re not as excited about it as they were before. But I think it’s like that all around the country, not just here. I was in Los Angeles at the Whisky recently and three hot L.A. bands were playing—there were about five people there, including me. Here, there’s no one band I can think of that’s drawing big crowds consistently other than the Disco Drippers. It seems like people are more into just having fun than getting into the depth of an artist or anything, unless it’s a touring act. I don’t think people care about anything right now unless it’s fucking Matchbox Twenty.”
In the early ’90s, thanks to the independently spirited alt-rock and grunge explosion, support for local music was booming—audiences were hungry for it, local radio played it and clubs were more than happy to book it. After the inevitable commercial alt-rock and grunge implosion a few years later, however, local support seemingly followed suit.
“Ten years ago, the bands weren’t as good as they are now, but the scene had a great support structure,” says longtime SLC music booster Mark Scheering, bassist for locals Erosion and organizer of SLUG magazine’s Localized, a monthly club concert series featuring—that’s right—locals only. “SLUG was just starting up. There was the Word, the Speedway, the Bar & Grill and Spanky’s booking mostly locals and doing all-ages shows. The Zephyr has always done half locals and half touring acts, but they’re in it for different things—and they should be, they’re the best club in town for live music, and they should have a different business ideology.”
Nowadays, Scheering continues, all Salt Lake City has to offer underage audiences and adventurous listeners (the ears still most open to local sounds) is the hip and very humble Kilby Court. “Phil [Sherburne, Kilby operator] does a great job with what he’s got, but location, location, location. Everyone has to stop bitching and start being political activists about the lack of all-ages venues. Apathy is a problem all over the country—the kids today learned it as a way of life from Generation X.”
On the upside, heavily publicized events like City Weekly’s Showdown to South by Southwest and SLUG’s Sabbathon, both of which feature several dozens of mostly unknown local bands and soloists, draw huge crowds every year. So at least people have also learned to do what they’re told. Beyond weekly media blitzes, Newman believes the only other way to get butts into bars may be to call out the family.
“All these bands need to get their aunts and uncles out to support ’em,” he laughs. “This has always baffled me for as long as I’ve booked music. You’ve got a band with five people in it, and none of you can get your parents down to the show? That’s why you’ve got to have like 30 members in your band and fill the place up with relatives.”
Another factor that’s sometimes overlooked is local radio airplay. During those ’90s salad days, stations like X96 played many a local artist in prime time, mixed in with regular playlists. Ink in the press is nice, but radio exposure almost guarantees CD sales and bigger show turnouts, because if you’re on the airwaves, you’re considered legit. In 2001, with playlists tightened down impenetrably across the dial, there isn’t much “legit” to go around anymore.
“X96, The Blaze and KRCL still play some local music, but definitely not in prime time like it used to happen years ago,” Scheering says. “Even KRCL, the one independent FM station, only plays local stuff at night. As far as I know, no stations play local music in morning or evening drive-time, and certainly not during the day. No one’s really playing locals on the radio anymore. These companies have to do business the way they want to do business, I know, but if the bands around here don’t realize how crucial radio is to their success, they’re probably never going to move beyond making barely $100 a show.”
“The local music scene is strong and alive, we just really need the support of the community,” says the Fat Guy, a 102.3 The Blaze DJ who spins locals on his Sunday night show, Left of Center. “It’s time for people to discover how rich this area is with local music. It’s going to take a musical revolution in Salt Lake City—we have the bands, we need the support.”
So get out there and start a revolution, kiddies—go on, scoot. Obviously, there’s no single definitive answer to the problem, but if things like this Music & Performing Arts issue, as well as stepped-up local coverage during the rest of the year, can nudge people into checking out what’s in their own backyard, it’s something. SLUG’s Localized, actually an update of the mag’s weekly Bar & Grill showcases back in the day, is also a needed step in the right direction.
“I’m not looking for bands of any specific style, I’m looking for bands that play well. Not so much with the openers, because they’re usually new and inexperienced,” Scheering says. “I have to go by word-of-mouth most of the time, because I don’t get a whole lot of entries for Localized. If this can help energize the scene at all, if it can get me closer to quitting my day job and just playing music, I’ll be happy. We’ve got to put aside the competition and the cliques for the greater glory of the scene. Let’s try to make Salt Lake City the happening place in the country, where the only original music is occurring right now. It’s vital and interesting here, and we all need to be proud of it.”
Maybe we can even pinch off the flow of local musicians to the Great Northwest?
“Portland has a fantastic support structure for local musicians, but their talent sucks!” Scheering counters. “OK, not all of it, but their scene isn’t as vibrant as ours, musically. You can see it in their faces when you go there—they want to be another Seattle, but they don’t know what to do. Then Erosion comes to town and we blow ’em away!” [Laughs] n